August 3, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15) Reading II (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24)
Gospel (St. John 6:24-35)
In the second reading this morning, Saint Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to live no longer according to the way of the Gentiles, according to the way they used to live. But rather, he tells them that because they have learned Christ and they have learned the truth in Christ they are to live no longer according to the futility of mind but rather that they are to put on the mind of Christ, that they are to put aside the former way of life with all of its corruption and all of its sinfulness and they are to live according to the new self, that is, the self which is a member of Jesus Christ. That means we are to live the life of Christ in the world.
Now the difficulty for us as Catholics in this society is that we are basically living among the Gentiles. The word Gentiles literally means “the nations”; it is all of the people around Israel, those who did not have faith in God. Well, while there are not all kinds of nations around us, there are certainly lots of pagans around us and lots of people trying to live a very pagan life. If we are going to live the life of Christ, we have to shun that way. For most of us, I suspect if we just look back a few years, we would probably have to admit that at one point that is the way we lived, giving ourselves over to all kinds of unfortunate things, seeking the self and the pleasure and the ease and all of the things that come along with what this society presents. It is a very, very easy thing to fall into because it is so prevalent. And the devil knows just how badly we have been affected by Original Sin and by all of our own sins; he knows that he can trap us very easily into getting caught up in ourselves. But Saint Paul is telling us to do something entirely different. He is telling us to put off the old self and to put on the new self, the new self which is made in the image of God, the new self which is a member of Jesus Christ, to put aside the mind of the pagans with all of its futility and to put on the very mind of Christ. And so it is in this way, when Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading that we are no longer to work for bread that perishes but for bread that will bring us to everlasting life.
We need to take stock of our daily lives and ask ourselves what it is that we are doing. First of all, we have to ask: Are we doing the Will of God? But secondly, we need to ask: Are we doing it in the manner in which God would want us to do it? For instance, if you have to go to work everyday in order to make a living and provide food for your family, that appears on the surface to be working for bread that perishes. Is Jesus then telling you to quit your job and not support your family? Certainly not. But He is telling you to change the very reason for which you are doing it, that is, to do things for a supernatural reason rather than merely for a natural reason. Just think of the difference if you went to work every morning and brought Jesus Christ into the workplace, if you lived your life according to the way Jesus would live if He were in that workplace – how He would interact with the people, how He would speak, how He would act. What kind of comportment would He carry Himself with and in what way would He do the work that you do? Whether that is for somebody who is at home cleaning the home and caring for children and cooking the meals, or whether that is for somebody out in the workplace who is doing the various tasks that are expected of them there, it does not matter. Everything we do should be done for a supernatural reason, that is, to glorify God and to serve the needs of those around us, to do things in the best manner that we are able. Not for a perfectionistic reason, not for any kind of selfish reason, but rather for the glory of God. That is what it would mean to have the mind of Christ. That is what it means to put on the new self.
If we look at the opposite of that – because there are really only two ways that we are going to put our priorities: either God is going to be the top priority in our life and everything we do is going to revolve around Him and will be done for Him, or we are going to be the top priority in our own lives –we can look at all the things we put as priorities with the money and the pleasure and the ease and the materialism and all the things like that. But even when we look at those things we realize that what we have made the priority is the self; it is just a question of what the self desires and what we are going to seek first for the self. But Jesus tells us that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His way of righteousness. That is the priority we are supposed to have.
I think that if we look at our lives we will be able to size up very quickly where our priorities are simply by looking at the first reading. Here we have the people of Israel, of which we will see that we are really no different. We would like to look at them and point a finger at them and say, “What a bunch of whiners! Look at what God had done for these people: the plagues in Egypt, opening the Red Sea, leading them through it, bringing them to Mount Sinai, and all the extraordinary signs and wonders that God worked. And what do they do? They grumble and complain. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt where we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread only to bring the whole community of Israel out into this desert to die?’” Isn’t that the way we are? We are much more interested in our bellies than anything else, sitting by our fleshpots and eating our fill of bread. If there is any discomfort in our lives, we whine and complain and grumble. And if it gets even a little bit out of what we consider in our very limited scope to be tolerable, then we begin to grumble against God, even though we can look at the signs and wonders the Lord has worked over and over again in our lives. Every single day what the Lord does for us, and how ungrateful we are! What we do instead is we grumble and complain when it does not go the way we want it to, which means very clearly that the priority is the self. “When it doesn’t happen according to what I want to happen, then I’m going to grumble and complain against God.” Rather than looking at the Lord and His way, we look at ourselves and the way we want things to be. It is evident when we do that where our priorities lie.
We do the exact same thing as the people in the time of Jesus. They gathered around Jesus, He fed five thousand people with five loaves and a couple of fish, and then they go to the other side of the lake because they cannot find the Lord and they say to Him, “What kind of sign are you going to work for us? Our fathers had manna in the desert, what are you going to do? What kind of sign can you work for us?” as though feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread was not sign enough, like that is something we all do everyday and that’s just no big deal! “Any of us can do that, after all; what sign are you going to work?” The Lord told them, “You’re not looking for Me because you saw the sign, but because you had your fill of bread.” They put their belly first. Saint Paul says the same thing: “Their god is their belly and their glory is in their shame.” Is not that the American way? We glory in our sinfulness. The very things we should be ashamed of are the things we brag about, and our priority is right in our own belly rather than in God. If you would just stop for a few moments today and think about all of the things that God has done for you, all of the signs and wonders He has worked in your life – not only the huge things that He has done in all of our lives on the rare occasion when it happens, but the ordinary things that He does day in and day out – and then ask yourself, “What is my response? Am I like the Israelites who grumble and complain? Am I like those people who came to Jesus at the Sea of Galilee and missed the signs completely and just looked to themselves?”
The greatest sign that we have to be able to see is an answer to the people’s request: “Give us this bread always.” Always. Every single day the Lord feeds us with the bread from Heaven, the true bread come down from Heaven for a man to eat and never die. That is the bread we have every single day, and He is present in the tabernacle 24 hours a day. It is going to be Heaven, the banquet of the Lamb, the Eucharist. The people asked that He would give them this bread always, and He has. How many of us completely miss it? The greatest sign in the world and we do not recognize it. We are just like the people of Israel who came out of their tents in the morning, looked at the fine flakes lying on the desert floor and said, “What is it?” That is what the word manna means. They walked out of their tents and said, “Manna?” – What is it? They did not know what it was. And how many of us come up to the communion rail and we, in essence, say, “What is it? Is it a piece of bread? Is it a sign? Is it a symbol? Is it really the Lord? What is it?” There can be nothing greater in the whole world given to us. We can partake in it day in and day out, and we come before the Lord not because we saw the signs but because we had our fill of bread. It is not bread – it is the Lord.
We need to begin to recognize what Our Lord is doing for us everyday, and we need to learn to rejoice in what He is doing for us. We need to learn to trust rather than to grumble and whine and complain. True, it is part of human nature to do that. But that is fallen human nature; that is human nature of the old self with all of its corruption and all of its sinful ways. But we are members of Jesus Christ. We have put off that old self and we have put on a new self, a self which is Jesus Christ. We are to live in holiness of life. That is who we are. We are to put on the mind of Christ and we are to put on the Person of Christ. That is the holiness God desires and intends for each one of us. If we will recognize it and live it, then we will be able not only to change the way we live, to live in holiness of life, but we will be able to bring Christ out into the world, to no longer live like the Gentiles and the pagans around us, but to live the life of Christ in a pagan society and to be the leaven in the world.
That is what Saint Paul is asking of the Ephesians and that is what Jesus Christ is asking of us, to look beyond just what we can see with our eyes, what we can pick up with our senses, and to see what God is doing in our lives and in the world. In our society today, that is completely necessary as we see the evil around us growing. How much we grumble and complain! But we need to see the work of God in the midst of it and prepare ourselves because an intervention of the Lord is near at hand. The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart is close and God is going to let evil run its course. We can look at the evil and we can give into it; or we can grumble and complain about it; or we can have faith, trust in God, and look for the signs that God is working in our midst, rejoice in Him with the mind of Christ, in the truth of Christ, and recognize God at work and glorify Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.